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Hot Topic - Issue 5
Each Issue's Hot Topic features brief commentary from the Armchair Arcade editors on an issue currently in the news...

This issue's Hot Topic is
"Emulation vs. Original Hardware"

The next two hot topics will concern the emulation of classic game systems on modern PC's and consoles. This is a controversial issue for most fans of retrogaming, because the only way we can get access to certain classic platforms and machines is via emulation and unauthorized (and usually copyrighted) ROM files. Furthermore, there is the more important issue of playability--some argue that it's just not the same to play a retrogame via PC emulation. Perhaps an even bigger controversy surrounds the emulation of modern consoles on PC's. Many emulation advocates stop short of saying that emulating games currently in production is ethically acceptable.

In this Hot Topic, we will specifically discuss "Emulation vs. Original Hardware." In other words, what are the advantages of playing a game on its original hardware versus emulating it on a PC or other system?

Matt Barton, Editor: Let me offer some background before I try to answer this question. I grew up playing games on Commodore computers, starting with a Vic-20 when I was 5 and working my way up to an Amiga 3000 when I was 15. I never owned a console until my adult years, though I had plenty of opportunities to play Nintendo and Super Nintendo games at my friends' houses.

Now, it's important to realize that Commodore computers were vastly different from their contemporary IBM-compatibles (I still occasionally refer to PCs as "clones," though my thinking has changed significantly regarding proprietary hardware). The key difference between, say, a Commodore 64 and a IBM PCjr was the advanced gameplay. To put it simply, I could attach the exact same joystick controller to my C-64 that my friends used for their Atari 2600's. Furthermore, the C-64's and most Amiga computers could be hooked up to televisions instead of a monitor; thus, there really wasn't a huge difference (from a gameplay perspective) between playing games on these computers versus playing them on a dedicated game console.
Commodore 64c. Emulation for the Commodore 64 is quite advanced, but the unusual keyboard layout of the original system makes for some confusion.
Commodore 64c. Emulation for the Commodore 64 is quite advanced, but

the unusual keyboard layout of the original system makes for some confusion.

Now, another benefit of Commodore computers was an abundance of good games. All of the important arcade games were present in one form or another. Sure, we didn't have Super Mario Bros., but we did have Great Giana Sisters, which in my opinion is still one heck of a game.

Anyway, I feel that growing up with Commodore computers instead of game consoles has given me little ability to appreciate the merits of a good game console. There is nothing nostalgic for me in playing a game "on a real SNES," and I feel quite happy playing these games with ZSNES on my PC. As far as arcade games are concerned, I did have a problem at firstóthe PC joysticks just aren't up to the task. If you've ever tried playing Donkey Kong with a flight-stick style controller, you know what I'm talking about. However, I solved this problem by purchasing a dual X-Arcade controller, which is simply the best controller I've ever owned for any computer, period.

I have emulators on my PC for NES, SNES, Sega Master System (SMS), Genesis, Commodore 64, Amiga, Magnavox Odyssey, Atari consoles and computers, TRS-80, and, of course, MAME (arcade). Never in my life have I had access to so many games on so many different systems. I have at least a thousand games sitting on my hard drive that I've never even booted up! When I'm in the mood to play games on my television, I look to my Dreamcast, which I picked up for $20 at a local Electronics Boutique store. The Dreamcast has plenty of nice games, but I use it mostly for emulating (almost flawlessly) NES and SMS games. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the Dreamcast still doesn't emulate the SNES very well, but I don't really mind playing SNES games on my PC using my X-Arcade.
Coleco ColecoVision Expansion Module #2.  Turbo can be played quite easily through emulation, but is it really the same without one of the first console steering wheels?  On the plus side, emulation doesn't require batteries like the original module does...
Coleco ColecoVision Expansion Module #2. Turbo can be played quite easily

through emulation, but is it really the same without one of the first console

steering wheels? On the plus side, emulation doesn't require batteries like

the original module does...

About six months ago I happened by a flea market vendor that specialized in classic hardware. I bought an Amiga 1200 and several Commodore 64 accessories. I was entertaining the notion of tinkering around with these systems simply for nostalgic purposes. However, I started asking myself why I was bothering with these old systems. Was it really worth tracking down software and other necessary accessories when I could just as easily play all the games on my PC via emulation? I was also turned off by the "vulture" like collectors on eBay and the like; I didn't want to give my money to these people who were so determined to cash in on somebody else's nostalgia. Eventually, I decided to give up the collection and sold the 1200. The C-64 accessories weren't even worth what I paid for them ($20 for two 1541s and a tape drive), so they're still sitting here under my desk.

Donít get me wrong; I appreciate that the machines themselves have historic value as well as nostalgic. If I were ever to visit Bill's home in New Jersey, I'd hope to spend at least a few hours (if not days!) browsing his massive collection and booting up a few classics just for the heck of it. As for now, though, I'm quite satisfied playing all these games via emulation.

Bill Loguidice, Editor: Since we'll be talking about the ethics of unlicensed emulation next issue, I'll make my comments for this "Hot Topic" under the hypothetical assumption that access to the software (ROM's, image files, etc.) for use in emulators on modern PC's and consoles is the same as using originals. In other words, in my hypothetical scenario, my actually owning the original software is the same as my pulling a virtual copy (hereafter referred to as a "ROM" for convenience) off a Website. Further, owning physical copies of original software - say a 5.25" floppy disk that contains either an original copy or a "cracked" (forcefully removed copy protection) copy of commercial software - will fall under the same classification.
Mattel Intellivision II with Intellivoice.
Mattel Intellivision II with Intellivoice. It's been notoriously difficult for even

official emulation to properly translate the controls of the system's unusual

controllers. Critics consider the use of alternate controllers a blessing, which

is really only possible through emulation. Speech volume is controlled directly

from the Intellivoice, creating an effect not possible in emulation.

From as far back as I can remember - the mid-1970's - I was into electronics and gadgets, specifically being fascinated with my mom's pocket calculator around age three. By the time I was five, I had long since graduated to my parents' Pong console from Sears, often begging to have it hooked up to the television. A few years later I bought my first Atari 2600 (a "woody" of course) with my Communion money, then soon thereafter, received my first computer, a Commodore Vic-20. Even though my parents sold off a lot of that original stuff, there was always more to follow, like a Commodore 64 and Coleco ColecoVision. It reached a point where selling the old stuff was no longer an option I would "allow" my parents to pursue (not that I wanted to do it previously). I began to not only want to acquire new stuff, but begin to grow my current "collection," whether I immediately realized it or not. Indeed, I have been an active classic game and computer collector since the mid-1980's, before there really was such a thing. Today, with a house and family of my own, I not only have most current systems - consoles and PC's - throughout the house, but an entire bedroom (my "workshop") dedicated to my current collection, which features dozens of systems with countless software, books and accessories (among other things). So that's where I'm coming from--there's something obviously inherently appealing to me about the physical item.

How do I express to someone the feelings the beep of a real booting Apple II disk drive elicits within? Or the clanking of a Commodore 64's disk drive as it tries to read a heavily copy protected disk? Or looking at a real GCE Vectrex monitor, in its true vector glory? Or that wonderfully aromatic "presence" my whole workshop has as I open the door and enter for the first time in a few days? Real nostalgia is a tangible thing. I prefer physical books to digital books, and yes, I prefer physical computer and videogame hardware to digital simulations.

Now, emulation on a PC or recent console has its place--it's convenient that it's accessible from something you presently use regularly anyway, with the added bonus of requiring no additional physical space; you can try a lot of different software titles you may never have access to; and the cost, often nothing, is hard to beat. With that said, emulation is nothing more than a bonus, an adjunct, to the real thing.
GCE Vectrex.  The Vectrex's custom vector monitor makes true emulation impossible.  However, emulation is considerably cheaper than trying to locate working Vectrex units.
GCE Vectrex. The Vectrex's custom vector monitor

makes true emulation impossible. However,

emulation is considerably cheaper than trying

to locate working Vectrex units.

Emulation not only can't duplicate the feel of another system's keyboard, it also lacks the ability to physically match the original's layout. Ever try to figure out which key on your PC's keyboard is mapped to what key on the system it's emulating? Kind of ruins the illusion, doesn't it? A computer mouse is not an equivalent of an Atari paddle controller. A modern console's gamepad is not a good match for an Intellivision's specialized controller. In short, emulation merely does its best to match the utility, not the reality or personality of the original. And speaking of personality, there's a reason why some of the most widely emulated games - the classic Infocom text adventures like Zork - still command such a high price when a complete boxed version goes up for sale. Original boxes, manuals and other goodies - especially for RPG's (Role Playing Games) and the aforementioned text adventures - often make a huge difference in getting the most out of the play experience. In fact, this ties in to what I conclude with in the next paragraph, which is the most damning case against emulation...

Simply put, you can never be 100% sure that what you're playing is actually how the developer designed the final product. If a game is for the Mattel Aquarius, for instance, you can always be sure that the programmer designed it for the actual Mattel Aquarius - with its "chiclet" keyboard and Intellivision-like disc controllers - not your 2004 multimedia PC with ergonomic full-stroke keyboard and digital gamepad. Further, you can never be sure that your emulator is not making some subtle change to the control, the frame rate, the sound, the visuals, whatever, that will affect your impressions. You can never have total control over all of the variables, be they the quality of the emulator's code, the type of speakers that you use, your display device, your controllers, whether something in the original packaging was important, whatever. The list goes on. With the software - ideally with the original packaging - running on the original hardware , you can be confident that a game will suck because it genuinely sucks, not because of some possibly unknown factor introduced 20 years later.

David Torre, Assistant Editor: I owe probably my entire drive to collect classic games to my discovery of NES emulators for the PC. Once I started building my collection of NES games and accessories, I headed over to my favorite emulation message board to declare that "the best NES emulation was the real thing." I received a near-universal backlash from some of the regulars, suggesting that in all my nostalgia, I had glossed over some disadvantages of playing on the authentic hardware: dirty cartridges and worn connectors that led to blinking screens, a tiny controller that was much too small for my adult hands, and no save states. Certainly these are problems solved by emulating this particular system on the PC, but is it worth it?

For a person who grew up loving this Nintendo system, it bothers me that each NES emulator has a slightly different color palette and not a single one of them seems right. You might not have to clean the cartridges when you load up a game in your favorite emulator, but what about that esoteric unlicensed game that uses a bizarre mapper and won't play? Are you really going to search for another emulator that plays that game correctly? Sure, you could use a save state after you make it through a difficult area in Ninja Gaiden, but is not the challenge diminished each time you do that? Emulators may be downright convienent in a lot of ways, but I feel that oftentimes the more someone gets into a particular platform, the less acceptable it becomes for that someone to accept anything less than the original.

Some people brag about having hard drives full of music, movies, and games--I'd prefer to have something I can touch. To me, a ROM is simply something that is intangible and abstract. I want a pretty box I can put on my shelf. Call me nostalgic, but wouldn't it be cool to have boxes for all your classic games hung up on the wall so it looks like a 1980's Toys "R" Us?

Some might conclude from my tone that I'm downplaying the importance of emulation. I think emulation serves an incredibly important purpose--it ensures that games for obsolete systems can still be played even when every piece of original hardware fails. Of course, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to preserve the original hardware as long as possible. A lot of what makes collecting the real thing worthwhile is capturing more of the culture of classic gaming. A game by itself won't give you a complete image of that culture, but collecting things like magazines, manuals, patches and toys will certainly give you a better picture.

What's your opinion? We'd love to hear from you. Tell us your own emulation story below or register for our free discussion forums!

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Comments ...
bullet ryuhayabusa | 04 Nov : 18:59

Comments: 13

Registered: 18 Jan : 18:26
I certainly agree that the real thing is the best way to experience classic gaming. Emulation almost always has it's problems, when it be color unaccuracies, missing sound effects, etc. There's nothing like playing the real game with the real controller on the real console. Playing on a PC monitor with a Sidewinder is not the same. That's why I've been collecting classic games for so long. Not only are the games great, it's almost like a time capsule, taking you back to "the good old days". Emulation does have it's good points, like being able to store tons of games on a single disk, being able to play those super rare or import games, and save states if you like to use them. Also, you can't beat the price. Still, the real game and console is the way to go for me.

bullet davyK | 05 Nov : 12:16

Comments: 76

Registered: 19 Jan : 08:40
For me, emulation has some advantages.

Once emulation gets to a certain level of quality (e.g. NES emulation) I may not feel the need for the real thing. I have given my NES and games away because NESTERDC to me is actually better than the real thing - the picture is better and you have save states for hi-scores etc. This is the only piece of emulation I have that replaces a console because it is on another console - so I still have the same feel as playing the original. I have one less console and a lot less cartridges. I can also play NES games I never would have even heard of , never mind had the opportunity to play because I live in the UK.

On the other hand, I can't see emulation replacing my Atari 2600 because while the quality of emulation is excellent, I want the feel of the original controllers which you will never get -even from another console. I know there are adaptors available now, but for the Atari, I'll stick with the original as long as it works.

My other consoles (SNES onwards) don't seem to have emulation of a good enough standard yet - when that level increases to a quality I accept then I MAY think about it - the XBox seems to be getting very good emulators and it may be the home of any retro console gaming in the future.

Regarding arcade games - unless you have the space, time and money then a MAME cabinet seems to be the way to go. For the older games, the level of emulation is very good indeed - and youhave hi-score saves. I used to get every ROM going - but I have prined my MAME ROMS down to a set of older games that I want to play. I intend to get a MAME cab at some point over the next couple of years, and the ROMS I put into it will depend on the control options I go for (spinners, track balls etc.)

bullet Fighter17 | 05 Nov : 15:15

Comments: 64

Registered: 05 Nov : 06:31
Well, what a topic to talk about.

Emulation got so better than five years ago. I used to play games on my PC. But because emulation help me play all my games that I what to play, I don't do it that much. You see, emulation can be useful. You what to play NES on your PC, and you don't what to buy a used system that cost $$$, do it. But people what to play the real thing, it's kind of hard to do it, but if you are in my city, there are not many used games at all. Emulation helps me play some of the best games ever made. I only got three systems (Dreamcast, Panasonic 3DO, and Playstation2), and some of the best games are for other systems. Emulation got so good, I can play the game flawless, and it almost the real thing. But, I don't got that much money, I don't what to buy a TurboGrafx-16 that cost like $50 on ebay, and the system cost is the same as a new PS2 game. Look, I don't got money, that why I do it. It would be nice to have the real system, and the real controller, but I don't got money to get it. I should be luckly because I got a PS2 Controller as my PC controller (SmartJoy Plus USB thing.) But money is going to be a big factor.

Look, In Daytona Beach, FL. No one ever herd of the C64, 3DO, then again, few people ever herd of Atari. My city is not a good place to find rare software and hardware. Worst, there is a arcade, but no good games to play in the place. In emulation, I can play all the CPS I, CPS II, and Neo Geo games I what. But hey, I can't buy a arcade machine, come on. Money is going to be a problem for me too.

Well, today, I sometime used the gift of emulation. Emulation got so better, it can now play CD systems, like the Sega CD, and the TurboGrafx CD. I could download Snatcher for the Sega CD, and play it on my emulator, it plays prefect. For the TurboGrafx CD, I can play Dracula X: Rono of the blood prefect as well. Also, with a good PC, you can play PSX games good.

Well, I still know emulation, but today, I download PSX games, Dreamcast games, and 3DO off the internet and burn the image, and I play it on my systems. Because I don't got a lot of money, downloading a lot of games off the internet, and burn them can help me play some of the most famous game, also some of the most rarest games as well. For the PSX, a very rare game, Gaia Seed, I download the game off the internet, and burn it and play it on my modded PS2. I do the same thing for the Dreamcast. Look, emulation vs. the real thing, I say that emulation is good for people who don't got a lot of money. The real thing, just get it if you can.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 05 Nov : 15:33

Comments: 307

Well, "Fighter17", I'm sure we'll be touching on many of the points you bring up in our next Hot Topic for Issue 6...

bullet ericball | 05 Nov : 20:33
Comments: 2

Registered: 05 Nov : 20:18
First, although I would love to have the money (and space, when talking about MAME) to collect consoles, computers and aracde games. But through emulation I can play the games I remember from my earlier years, and try out the ones I never had a chance to play.

Second, as a homebrew programmer (Skeleton+ for the Atari 2600) emulation gave & gives me the ability to test out what I am working on without having to leave my computer. Some emulators also provide debugging information.

But, finally, emulation is, and never will be, perfect nor able duplicate the experience of playing something on the real thing. For those people Skeleton+ is available in cartridge form. And I have an Atari 7800 with a RAM cart for programming SpaceWar! 7800 because emulation hasn't reached a sufficent level where I can avoid testing on the real thing.

But I do have to say it was fun going through all of the games MAME attempts to emulate to find the 150 which will be installed on the cabinet I am building.

bullet Fighter17 | 05 Nov : 21:38

Comments: 64

Registered: 05 Nov : 06:31
You what to know what other thing to talk about emulation, the "24 hour rule." You know, when you go on the ROM downloads website and it tell you to remove the roms in 24 hours (only the games that you don't really own). I think that dumb because, I download a crap load of games off the internet and don't remove them in 24 hours. Who in the HELL is going to catch you not removing the ROM. Hell, I don't see the F.B.I knocking down my house door and put me in handcuffs just because I didn't remove the Pac-Man Atari 2600 ROM in less than 24 after I download it. I think this rule is full of crap, and who in the world is enforcing the rule? I don't see the F.B.I knocking down doors just because you didn't removed the ROM image. Then again, I don't see game makers like Capcom, Konami, Sega, EA, and a lot more sueing people just because you didn't remove their game ROM image in less than 24 hours, hell, I don't think game makers don't care about their old games any more, they don't make money out of old SNES games and Genesis game. Today, the people who are making money of the old games are the sellers, that it, the game makers don't make money out of them. Then again, when I'm downloading PSX games or DC games, many game makers don't care if you download their CD games, because it is not happening in the millions, only like 2,000 people downloading PSX games, PS2 games, DC games, and a lot more.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 06 Nov : 01:12

Comments: 307

Again, "Fighter17", I'll reserve the majority of my comments for Issue 6's "Hot Topic", but, with all due respect, it is NOT your "right" to play these games, nor do you NEED to play these games. Sorry, but if you don't have the money, you simply should do without. Now, with that said, I believe emulation of certain systems and software is acceptable - in fact there are several software collections that were released into the public domain (see Vectrex stuff). The newer the systems, the greyer the area. I love free stuff as much as the next guy, but I also believe in people being compensated for their work. Anyway, I will stop here, as again, we'll be delving into the topic SPECIFICALLY next issue, so we can carry it over there. Also, there are always our forums, which encourage more thorough discussions of important topics such as this one, so feel free... At heart THESE comments should be specifically focused on the Topic in the article at hand...

bullet PoloPlayr | 06 Nov : 10:00

Comments: 19

Registered: 29 Mar : 07:32
Fighter17, I believe that the money saved on games illegally downloaded would be wisely invested in an english grammar course.

That said, I do share most of your views. The developers are not losing out anywhere near the amounts often published by various reports. It has been said a million times over but naturally anyone downloading thousands of roms would never ever go out and buy every single game.

It's a sensitive issue and quite frankly the article took the right approach and not focusing on the legal issues. For me as a gamer, the real issue is with the feeling. I cannot help to think that gaming would be even better had I not given in to the sweet seduction of "free" downloads. The waiting as a younger gamer until the release date, the excitement of going to the shop, bringing that baby home and opening it up. Feeling the paper. Ah. Emulation may multiply your choices but kills the soul of whichever you chose to make.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 06 Nov : 11:53

Comments: 307

That's a good point, PoloPlayr, and one I've made several times before myself. The more free stuff you have access to, the less value it holds. For example, I would have KILLED (well, sort of) for access to even a couple of the MAME perfect arcade emulations as a killed. Now that I have access to thousands of them, I find myself rarely wanting to play them. Same things goes for the arcades with the swipe cards or the pay once, play as much as you want places (that are all set to free play). Sure, it's fun at first, but having NO value attached to the experience DOES seem to diminish it. It bears stating that he who is not challenged lives a very unhappy life. In other words, he who has everything he wants is not as happy as the person who has to work for what he wants. I think that is very applicable in this case.

bullet Fighter17 | 06 Nov : 17:29

Comments: 64

Registered: 05 Nov : 06:31
Yeah, I'm bad in english. Then again, that the only language I know. Ha Ha. Yeah, emulation let you play almost everything you what. But, I like the real thing better.

bullet OldSchoolGamer | 09 Nov : 07:56

Comments: 2

Registered: 26 Mar : 05:46
I LOVE emulation! Hell, there are so many games I would never of experienced without it! Personally I am pretty happy with emulation. I only invest in a system if emulation is either poor or not well implemented, case in point, Sega Saturn, I got the hardware so I could play games properly. I find PSX emulation to be very good though in some cases the grahics are even better than originally! The emulation scene on Dreamcast is pretty amazing too, I think it's great to pop in a disc into my Dreamcast and see the Commodore 64 blue screen pop up! It's a retro gamers dream, as long as I can emulate it well I am happy. I seriously considered getting Xbox just to modchip it and check out emulators but I think that would be pointless since I have a decent PC. Of course let's not forget MAME, all the arcade games you could ask for. Another great thing about emulators is being able to check out games and systems you either missed the first time around or were not widely available such as the many Japanese 8-16bit computers and consoles. I was mainly a console gamer for many years though I did own Amiga 500 and later a 1200 but once I got a PC I was amazed at the possibilities for retro gaming made possible by emulators, heck even the most powerful Amiga environment I've ever owned is thanks to emulation on the PC. Lastly I love it because of the access to so many games while requiring only the storage space needed as oposed to all the space that would be required by 100's of cartridges etc. Yep emulation rocks and it will be interesting to see what is to come........
Oh, great article by the way!

bullet gptrolati | 09 Nov : 20:08

Comments: 2

Registered: 08 Nov : 15:58
You could also say that the more money you have access to, the less value the things you buy with it hold, or holds. I'm not sure about the s here...

I think things tend to lose value just by virtue of being in your possession, whether or not they're paid for.

For this very reason, I have never purchased any album that includes "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandella's. That way I can still go apeshit when it gets played on the radio. Or just sort of apeshit when it's the Linda Rondstadt version. Please, no editorials on "Heat Wave".

Finally, let me be specific. I nicked the Ms. Pac-Man ROM and I play it quite often. That dot-eating sound is like a clear, babbling brook. Oh my god! Sometimes I can play it and be transported back to the bar at the Pine Haven Resort in Chetek, Wisconsin, circa 1980. I can actually see the neon bar signs reflected in the monitor, hear beer glasses clink, hear some guy making up lewd lyrics to some country song on the juke box, some line with the word 'pedigree' in it - he is adding the words "scratch my ass" to the song somehow. Oh! The memories. They had a Super Cobra, too.

There is some hope for my rehabilitation. I am told that I could purchase "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" for fifty bucks and play all the Ms. Pac-Man I want. All I have to do, see, is break into a millioinaire rapper's mansion, kill his butler, pry a key from his fingers, and then visit the classic arcade room.

bullet crcasey | 09 Nov : 23:48

Comments: 25

gptrolati said...

There is some hope for my rehabilitation. I am told that I could purchase "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" for fifty bucks and play all the Ms. Pac-Man I want. All I have to do, see, is break into a millioinaire rapper's mansion, kill his butler, pry a key from his fingers, and then visit the classic arcade room.

The previous hint was passed on by a 14 year old that weighs 200 pounds that knows the streets of San Andreas better then he knows his own neighborhood.

bullet michael-gale | 12 Nov : 00:20
Comments: 1

Registered: 11 Nov : 22:49
Over the course of my life, I have played a very large number of games on a variety of different systems and platforms. It's one of my favourite hobbies and certainly the one I spend the most amount of time and money on. I find that I have a lot of nostalgia for the machines I have acquired over the years, and I have spent numerous hours cleaning and maintaining these wonderful icons of gaming history.

However, there is a dark side to this hobby, one that I have yet to master. The problem sometimes reveals itself when you turn the machine on after it was lying dormant for a little while, or during an all night marathon of gaming with your friends. It's called video degradation, or hardware demons, and they're out to get you!

These problems are a major pain in my backside, and when I am fresh out of Tylenol, that's when I reach for my PC's joystick. My philosophy is simple: when it becomes more of a problem (think eye strain) to use the original machine than to play it through an emulator, then I choose the emulator until I have a chance to fix the problem or acquire a new piece of hardware. Most emulators do a reasonable job, and depending on your hardware configuration, it can even give your favourite game a much needed face lift. Many people just tend to focus on video quality (interpolation effects and colour quantization,) but there is a fair degree of audio enhancement that can be gained by running your emulator on a decent machine. Before I purchased a modest home theatre system, I was playing most console games on a standard television, which does the job often enough, but it's no Harmen Karmen (I don't own one of these .)

I like to keep track of any hardware modifications that could be made to each machine in my collection, and when I have the time and the skills required, then I go about setting the changes in motion. I am not an electronics expert, and I tend to refrain from making serious alterations unless there is no other way (I have never had to do it yet.) Despite my lack of expertise, I have made a few changes to some machines in my collection. For example, I now have S-video/audio cable connections for my Atari 800 XL and Commodore 64 computers. The picture is more clear now than when it was brand new, and I love every minute I am on those machines because of that small change.

Before my video degraded to the point where it was just unpleasant to play, I was tackling the issue of disk drives. I enjoy and respect their history, I sometimes love to listen to their quirky sounds, but most of the time I hate waiting for them to read a piece of media. For this reason, they are a plague on human kind and should be properly stored away whenever their usefulness has come to an end. Presently, I only use them to read the few disks that do not have some sort of virtual file representation (ATR format, for example.) The rest of the time, I have the two computers I mentioned above connected to virtual hard disks. Through an appropriate software/hardware interface, I can access my office machine's modem, hard drive, printer, etc. This setup allows me to enjoy my games using the original hardware without the cost of floppy disks.

I'm sure you all have similar configurations, so I'll wrap it up for now as it's getting late and I want to get a round of Mr. Robot in before I head to bed. There are literally thousands of modifications or homebrew electrical devices available to the consummate and diligent gamer. Just because the machines a little dated, doesn't mean it's not worth playing for the first time.


P.S. - I believe emulation can also be a lot of fun when going on business trips, playing networked SNES games with your friends, visiting the in-laws, etc.

P.P.S - I also prefer emulation for other types of hardware where I simply do not have the room in my house to store these beautiful monstrosities, such as the wealth of a classic arcade. Sigh. In fact, I am creating designs for an arcade cabinet which will house an arcade emulator of my choosing, probably MAME. Complete with authentic joysticks and decals. I found the book ["Project Arcade", ExtremeTech Series, ISBN: 0-7645-5616-9] to be very useful so far.

bullet Rowdy Rob | 10 Dec : 14:25

Comments: 21

Registered: 18 Jan : 13:02
One thing about emulation that attracts me is just how amazing a technical feat it is to pull off. Half the fun of emulation (to me) is "Wow, I'm playing 'Super Mario 3' on my Dreamcast!" (BTW, Yes, I own the original cartridge). The concept of emulation itself is most of the fascination to me.

Seeing the real "Galaga" and "Street Fighter 2" coin-ops at the local hamburger joint makes me wonder if the "real thing" might be an overrated experience. Perhaps it's just too much familiarity with the games themselves, but playing the actual coin-ops, while still fun, is not a night-and-day different experience to me over emulation. In fact, I feel kind of odd being some old weirdo playing an old game in a corner of a public establishment...

In a way, I see "emulation" as sort of parallel to movies released on VHS/DVD. With these movies, you're sort of "emulating" a theater experience in your home, yet there are compromises (your TV display, sound, etc.) and virtues (PAUSE BUTTON and replay, no annoying jerks, etc.). Personally, I prefer to sacrifice some of the "thrill" of the theater experience for the convenience of the "home DVD" experience, and I guess that holds true for my preference of "emulation" over original coin-op/console experience.

bullet jouster | 22 Dec : 13:55
Comments: 1

Registered: 12 Dec : 12:52
All very interesting, and both viewpoints well represented!

I'm with Michael Gale. I think that emulation is naturally an inferior substitute for the real thing, but given the time and space constraints (in my case a brand new son!) many of us have, it is acceptable.

I'd love to be able to visit thrift stores regularly, to spend time tracking down decent auctions on ebay ("This is your chance to own a RARE piece of computing history - the CBM=64!!! Buy it now for $99.95!!!") or even to source an original arcade machine.

What I have now, thanks to emulation, is a chance to play these games that I never thought I would have just a couple of years ago. Again, I understand that the Stargate I'm playing on MacMAME isn't exactly how Williams intended it to be, but given that there is no conceivable way I'd be playing it in any other form, I'm willing to substitue a little veracity for sheer fun.

I think there are some advantages too; in the huge sea of mediocrity that was the majority of 8-bit and arcade games, there is a lifeboat: the chance to test games I'd never have bought back in the day. Matt references this in his "thousand unplayed games," though at 1,900 I've got him beat!

Another - albeit obscure - benefit is to the computer historian. Now, I'd never call myself such, but I was a history major who worte a short thesis on the history of computing. Emulators gave me the opportunity to "use" a PDP-8, The ENIAC, and other prehistoric computers. True, the experience lacked certain touches - the smell of burning tubes, the pop of dying valves, the hum of the Hoover Dam power station in the background - but was invaluable nonetheless.

Part of what Rowdy Rob calls the "real thing" is, as he points out, less and less valid. In my opinion, playing the original is akin to trying to recreate a certain period of one's life, and I don't think I want to do that. emulation offers just the right balance of nostalgia and attachement to the present. I LIKE the fact that my PowerBook, so modern by comparison to the...uh...emulatees...is running Sea Wolf. I get a little gaming history lesson and a reminder that things are still moving quickly, all at thwe same time.

So I cast my vote for emulation, with the caveat that one should leave a few spare shelves for one's absolutely most favoured old system. That would be the BBC Micro for me, but I'm still more likely to fire up Elite (written for the Beeb, NOT for the CBM=64!) on my Mac!

Vive l'emulation!

bullet forcefield58 | 26 Dec : 23:10

Comments: 34

Registered: 23 Nov : 22:54
Interesting topic. I didn't even realize that "emulation" was being done across platforms.

I'm assuming that just like music, one can access these emulations off the web. Also assume you can somehow get them into the game consoles. Understand how easy it would be to download and play on your PC, but getting the ROM files into "other" gaming consoles is something I've never heard of.

I asked for the latest Sonic compilation of games for the Xbox for Xmas....and guess what, I got it. Booted it up last night and was ready for a blast from the past. I was pretty bummed out that, for me, it wasn't the same as playing it on my Genesis system, way back when. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but maybe it was "been there, done that"...I don't know.

I still have all the orignal carts for the Genesis and plan to do a side-by-side comparison with the Xbox version. I know one thing for sure, the Xbox version is ALOT slower!!!!

My vote is for original equipment and not emulation, as far as the newer games go. I'm on the fence regarding the "older" titles.


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